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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2464

Taliban begins to look and act like Al Qaeda

By M Rama Rao - Reporting for Asian Tribune from New Delhi

New Delhi, 09 March (Asiantribune.com): The Taliban has metamorphosed into a truly Al Qaeda clone. Analyzing a series of recent events in the ‘badlands’ of Pakistan, security specialists opine that the Taliban is ‘beginning to look and act’ more like al Qaeda.

Firstly, the Taliban, which is based in the tribal belt of Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), is executing ‘collaborators’. Warning notes are pinned to the victims saying “American spies will face the same fate”.

Secondly, the Taliban have embarked on a media blitz to communicate with friends and enemies alike. They have been recording videos of the executions and posting them on the Internet.

If these two developments are considered together along with other trends in Taliban working, a very interesting story begins to unfold.

“The Mullahs have gone Hollywood” says Fred Burton, the Stratfor expert on global terrorism, in a tongue in cheek remark. In his view, this tactic (of publicity through video) is borrowed directly from the al Qaeda work book and it is the most striking of several other shifts in Taliban style.

One of the more prominent Taliban commanders, Mullah Dadullah, has even given an interview to UK’s Channel Four. It is some thing not expected of a fundamentalist Jihadi Islamist group which traditionally considers using ‘image-making’ technology as a sin.

Security experts are veering round the view that the Taliban is stepping up the pedal as Afghanistan- Pakistan border has become as much a theatre for intelligence war as for military campaign.

The “badlands “on Pakistan's side of the border is a key region for intelligence operations; that is where the Islamists and Jehadis have secure sanctuaries. And it is from these bases they are launching attacks at will on the Coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The NATO forces particularly the Americans have put their act together to collect ‘human’ intelligence in this area, which in effect means cultivating sources who can alert the Forces in time.

By targetting such ‘spies’ the Taliban is trying to protect its own flanks besides sending alarming signals to the Americans.

“These executions often are read as a sign that the jihadists are asserting their power in the border region, but they are, in fact, a marker of the jihadists' insecurity”, say western security specialists.

Fred Burton of Stratfor, however, dubs the Taliban executions as an ‘outcome of paranoia’.

The arrest last week of Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, who was Taliban regime’s defence minister, could have heightened feelings of insecurity among the jihadists. Obaidullah is a prize catch. He can be expected to ‘spill the beans’ during sustained interrogation.

The fear factor appears to take on new dimensions, however, with the Taliban expanding their communications to include video and the Internet -- something not widely seen in this particular war.

Osama bin Laden frequently gave interviews to journalists in the late 1990s; after 9/11, however, he stopped direct communication. His window to the outside world initially was Al Jazeera, which used to get his video recordings from ‘some one’ in Pakistan.

Later on, particularly since, 2005, his messages are appearing on the Internet. Al Qaeda's media arm, ‘As-Sahab’, has taken upon itself the job of posting the Osama messages on the Net. As-Sahab and the al Qaeda-linked Labik Productions also have made use of videos showing rocket and vehicular-bombing attacks in Afghanistan.

Hitherto, the Taliban and its leadership have maintained a much low media profile. It could be because of their fundamentalist ideology because the Taliban have always frowned on depictions of the human form as evil. When they were all powerful in Kabul, the Taliban had outlawed movies, television, photographs and even painted portraits of people.

The scene began to change from mid-February this year when As-Sahab released a video called "Pyre for the Americans in the Land of Kharasan", which showed the Taliban planning and carrying out an operation to capture a purported American base in Zabul province. Other videos showed the Taliban executing dozens of alleged informants, some of whom were beheaded with swords.

It is possible the media offensive is a part of calibrated strategy. Because the Taliban and its clones in the tribal belt of Pakistan along the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan have renewed the ban on playing music and have local barbers out of work by banning shaving.

Says Fred Burton, the Stratfor expert, “We are witnessing both the Talibanisation of Pakistan's Pashtun-dominated regions and a concurrent ‘al Qaedaization’ of the way the Taliban are fighting”. According to him, the Taliban have since moved toward the ‘fourth-generation asymmetrical model’ of warfare now being waged by al Qaeda in other theatres.

Whether the Taliban will find it in their interests -- or their means -- to carry out attacks beyond the Pakistan-Afghanistan region remains to be seen.

-Asian Tribune-

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